What could be more tropical than growing your own bananas? In our sub-tropical paradise, growing this luscious fruit is generally easy. There are two species of banana, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, and most banana cultivars are hybrids of these species. The many cultivars produce fruit in a wide array of taste, size and quality. The plants also vary in size, shape and color of foliage. Banana plants are fast growing, consisting of multiple trunks or pseudostems that support the leaves, flower and fruit stalks. Underneath the ground is a rhizome or underground stem that has numerous growing points. This is where the next pseudostem will come from, as well as the fibrous roots that support the plants. Hundreds of roots will be produced and if planted in well-drained, fertile soil the roots can reach 15 feet laterally. When one stem flowers and produces fruit, once that fruit reaches maturity the stem will decline and another stem will grow up nearby. One banana stalk can produce a clump of many stalks all producing fruit over time, in the right conditions.
In the landscape, Banana plants add a lush, tropical look with their large leaves. They look good as a screening plant or to add some shade in sunny areas. Add a decorative touch to your dinner table by cutting a leaf or two to use as a table runner when serving your catch of the day.
The timeframe from planting a small banana sucker and harvesting your own fruit can range from 9 to 20 months depending upon temperatures, cultivars and growing conditions. Bananas like it hot and sunny. They do their best work at temperatures between 78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. While the plants may be tolerant of some shade, those shady conditions will inhibit fruit production.
Although Banana plants are one of the quintessential tropical plants, they do not grow or fruit well in saline soils. Symptoms of salt damage include yellowing and death of the leaf margins and thin, deformed fruit. Mounding up the soil in the planting area is preferable if that area tends to hold any water, as the roots will need to be well above the saturation point in well-drained soil. Adding some natural compost will also help provide needed organic matter in the planting area. Keep these conditions in mind when selecting a place in your landscape for the Banana, and reap the benefits of having your own bananas for breakfast.
This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel Island, Florida.